January 19, 1973 (29th Parliament, 1st Session)


Donald Alex Blenkarn

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Don Blenkarn (Peel South):

Mr. Speaker, it is with a great deal of humility that I come to this House. The county of Peel and the riding of Peel South are once again represented properly by members on this side of the House in this party. The county of Peel is again happy and proud to be represented by a party that has been charged with greatness in the past. I have not had the chance to speak before in this House, so may I first of all congratulate you, Sir, on your election as Deputy Speaker, as well as the hon. member for Stormont-Dundas (Mr. Lamou-reux) on his election as Speaker of the House.
A lot has been said in this debate, and I agree with the hon. member for Ottawa West (Mr. Reilly) that perhaps we are spending too much time talking rather than getting down to business. I should like to use some of my time to
January 19, 1973

thank Mr. Alistair Fraser, the Clerk of the House, for the assistance he has given me as a new member.
Some months ago all of us here walked around our ridings, knocking on doors and hearing continual complaints about the price of a jar of coffee, a can of peas, a jar of Cheez-Whiz to make a sandwich for the kids' lunch, to say nothing of the cost of a pound of hamburger and other meat. The people of this country are pretty darned concerned about the prices they are having to pay for food and groceries, the necessities of life. If this government does not take more legislative action to deal with the rising cost of living in this country, and do so very quickly, I am sure the people will tell the government, more seriously than they did on October 30, what they think of it at the next election.
There is really no need for a protracted debate on the matter of setting up a committee to inquire into food prices. We have all been around and know pretty much what the problem is. We have had enough royal commissions and committee studies; but if we are to have another committee, let me say a few words about what that committee should explore.
A great deal has been said about farmers. Unfortunately, in my riding there is no longer any farmland; it has all been used for housing lots. As a lawyer, I have dealt with farmers for a long time and I say this to members of this House: I know of no business or industry which uses so much capital and labour for so little return. It is no wonder that the sons of farmers are leaving the farm to drive trucks and work in factories, and it is no wonder that some of the best agricultural land in Ontario lies fallow, growing weeds and producing no food.
No one can accuse those who produce farm products, in this province in particular, of creating the high price of food at the grocery store level. This committee inquiry must treat the words "price" and "food" in their broadest sense. The inquiry should consider all those things that are necessities of life, including shelter, clothing, services and, indeed, all costs to consumers.
I was amazed at the hon. member for Vancouver-Kings-way (Mrs. Maclnnis) when she asked, "What about consumers?" Every member of this House, every person in the galleries-in fact everyone-is a consumer. What we must consider is the cost of production and the price of food. The hon. member for York South Mr. Lewis; and his gang are often yelling and talking about the extortionate prices which supermarkets charge. Every indication I have is that the profit of supermarkets is less than 1 per cent of gross turnover. Let me remind hon. members of this House that if the price of an article was $1 and the profit was reduced by 1 cent, the market would just break even. If the price was reduced by 2 cents, the retailer would go broke.
We have had enough business failures in this country and we must consider why some of them have occurred. Perhaps some of these failures are the result of our cost-price structure. Some have said they should be blamed on labour. My inquiries would indicate that this is a highly labour-intensive industry and that most of the people are not well paid. Grocery store clerks, the people who move
Food Prices Committee
the produce and others in this industry are not well paid or wealthy, yet this is a highly labour-intensive industry. Every small pay increase is immediately reflected by an increase in price.
I think we must look deeper than the cost of labour, the cost of farming, the cost of distribution and transportation. We must consider the cost of incompetence on the part of the government which sits opposite. This government has saddled the Canadian people with incompetence which is reflected in the price the people must pay for everything they purchase.
During the election campaign I travelled throughout my constituency and talked to a number of operators of small businesses, as I am sure all hon. members did in their ridings. I am sure most hon. members have seen the statistical forms sent out to businessmen with a demand that they be completed and returned, or else. The cost of these forms, the red tape and the time involved is added to the overhead and passed on to the consumer. If the committee ever gets started, it should inquire into this type of cost because it also drives up prices.
There is a company in a neighbouring riding named Maple Lodge Farms. It is involved in processing chickens. A short time ago a health inspector closed down this operation because of a small dispute with management. The hon. member for Peel-Dufferin-Simcoe (Mr. Madill) went to work on the matter and managed to get the plant back in operation within two hours. In the meantime 250 people stood around doing nothing while production in the plant was held up. There was nothing actually wrong and the issue involved only interference by a bureaucratic inspector. This is the kind of interference businessmen in this country face today. As long as this type of interference by this and other governments continues, prices will increase, because if a man is to stay in business he must pass the cost of interference and control on to consumers in the cost of production.
This government has interfered in another way. Less than a year ago it authorized the slaughter of a large number of chickens in order to increase the price of eggs. This is the kind of action that creates an increase in food costs. Only two years ago this government told the farmers of this country not to plant wheat and said it would pay them to reduce wheat acreage. How much government interference of this kind can the business community or the economy stand? This is the type of thing that continues to force prices up; I refer to inefficiency and bad decisions. If this committee inquires into the cost of interference by government in the business sector, it may do some good.
Another matter which is more dramatic than wages in relation to food prices is the government's vested interest in inflation, in terms of income tax. We have 5 per cent inflation today. Does the consumer need 5 cents extra on the dollar in order to pay the increased cost? I suggest the consumer must have at least 7 cents or 8 cents more, because of rapidly accelerating income taxes. The consumer needs this extra money just to stay even. This government continues to collect income tax on the basis of a vested interest in inflation, yet its members stand here in the House and suggest we should have an inquiry into prices. This matter was clearly discussed by the

January 19, 1973
Food Prices Committee
Leader of the Opposition iMr. Stanfield; in May, yet nothing has been said in the Speech from the Throne and nothing has been proposed to date to reduce the vested interest of this government in inflation.
It is easy for all parties to attack someone else. It is easy for the New Democratic Party to accuse the corporations. It is easy for us who live in the cities to say that the farmers, the producers or the transport people are responsible. It is easy for us to blame the developers for the high cost of rent. What this House must do, however, is look at itself and some of the legislation it has passed, as well as some of the red tape and regulations which have been created, and the effect this has on prices.
I suggest we should look at the incompetent government we have on the other side of this House. We have personal income taxes which start at 20 per cent and increase to 60 per cent or so. We have corporate taxes of 50 per cent or more. This government takes 20 per cent of the gross national product, and all other governments together increase that percentage to 37 per cent or 38 per cent. It is no wonder that those Canadians who rake asphalt for a living or serve in stores, as well as other Canadians, do not have sufficient money with which to buy the goods they require.
We must also inquire into the work ethic situation in respect of unemployment insurance and the welfare system in this country. The cost of welfare, the cost of payouts and handouts are all passed on in the tax system. All these costs add tremendously to the prices which must be paid. I do not say for a moment that we do not need to look into this aspect, because we do. We must look into the situation of the elderly people, the sick and the disabled in our community. We must realize, however, that the welfare system and the attack on prices does not require a commission or a committee in order to accomplish this.
In reference to the question of time, an amendment has been moved to the effect that this committee report in three months. A subamendment has been moved that an interim report be filed in 60 days. I do not know what the committee and its reports will establish, but I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that this matter is one of urgency. This debate has been carried on and on. I suggest that it be terminated next Monday at the latest and that the committee be forthwith appointed.
I would be delighted if the committee, as suggested by the New Democratic Party, could report in 60 days. We had the slogan "60 days of decision" by a previous Liberal government but I am not sure that those 60 days of decision produced anything. So while I am quite prepared to vote on the basis of a report in 60 days, I suggest that it should be a final report and that this House and the government get on with producing legislation which will solve the urgent economic problems of this country.

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